Resisting the allure of the Central Coast’s string of seaside villages is next to impossible once you’ve sampled its summer delights, writes Katie Carlin.
It’s the promise of hot days spent lazing on the sand punctuated by refreshing ocean dips and short reprieves from the sun in one of the many beachside cafés that make a summer holiday on the Central Coast so inviting. But it’s the local makers and creators who have reshaped the villages of this once humble summer destination into a unique offering of experiences that will draw you from one to the next.
Find Copacabana tucked away between Macmasters Beach and Avoca Beach. The road cuts a winding path down through dense canopies of bushland to deliver you to the beachfront, fringed by a smattering of homes built on the cliff edge and stacked into the hillside like stepping stones leading down to the sand. You’ll feel a million miles from anywhere in Copa (as the locals call it).
The area was once known by its Aboriginal name, Tudibarina, which means “where the waves pound like a beating heart” – it’s no surprise that surfing is one of the most popular pastimes here. Once you’ve had your fill of days spent beachcombing, surfing and cooling off in the ocean pool at the southern end of the beach, turn your attention to Bouddi National Park to discover one of the most picturesque coastal walks in NSW. The one-way walk stretches eight kilometres from Macmasters Beach through to Putty Beach and takes around four hours to complete. For a shorter, but no less rewarding option, take the Maitland Bay track.
Natural beauty aside, it’s the foodie scene that really stands out in Copa. Joanna Fairall and Hayley Thorncraft honed their skills in Sydney and London before opening Burnt Honey Bakery on the seafront of Copa in 2019. Locals flock to the artisan bakery for its irresistible selection of handmade pastries and cakes, freshly baked sourdough bread and quality coffee. Speaking of coffee, Coppacino’s in town or Looloo’s Coffee Shack on the way to Macmasters are also firm favourites for a caffeine fix. Grab breakfast or lunch at Artie’s Place in the Copa Surf Club before you hit the beach. Perch yourself at Cabana Bar for an afternoon sundowner before heading to Lady Copa Pizzeria to sink your teeth into its wood-fired pizzas for dinner.
Bed down right across the road from the beach at Copacabana Shores, or stay at the luxuriously restored late seventies-style Copacabana Beach House for equally enviable ocean views and chilled summer vibes. Find a number of luxe and family friendly holiday homes one suburb over in Macmasters Beach – including Breezeway House, designed by award-winning local architect David Boyle, and the beautifully renovated Malolo at Macs, to be within walking distance to Macmasters Beach.
Grass-fringed sand dunes border the mostly buried planks of wood that form steps down to Shelly Beach. It’s well known as one of the best surf beaches on the Central Coast – the number of wetsuit-clad locals give that away. But there’s more to attract you to the suburb of the same name than its beach. The real drawcard to staying here is the thriving hub of creativity that’s rippled its way through it out into the surrounding villages of Long Jetty and Toowoon Bay.
The fruit of which can be seen each month at the Shelly Beach Markets. Local artists, designers and makers converge in Long Jetty along the Tuggerah Parade Foreshore to showcase their work – meanwhile you get a snapshot of the breadth of talent on the Coast.
Local ingenuity has also birthed a handful of boutique shops selling a mix of affordable, designer and vintage clothes alongside jewellery, homewares, plants and candles; from Blackbird in Bateau Bay to Mowgli Studio, Shadow Bang and Plain Janes in Long Jetty. Amelia and April, the sisters behind Plain Janes, have curated a unique mix of local and Australian-made products for purchase.
They are one of many local creative businesses that popped up along the main drag of Long Jetty after Kelly Rocksteady and Adrian Reynolds opened The Glass Onion Society. The creative hub and café, which doubles as a gallery and gig space, kicked off a renaissance that transformed the village into a hub of boutique stores, cool cafés, op-shops and yoga studios. Stop by The Green Tangerine café for a photo op with its iconic ‘Welcome to Long Jetty’ mural, or combine yoga and brunch at the Modern Organic.
If you head around the corner to Toowoon Bay you’ll find a similar renaissance unfolding with a collection of buzzing cafés and dining spots emerging over the past decade. The Flour & Co Bakery, formerly the Toowoon Bay Pie Shop, has been in the Picot family for 32 years. Local photographer Grace Picot and her husband Tim lovingly transformed the old-school bakery into the bright, airy café it is today when they took over from her parents, Floranie and Jim Picot – also a renowned travel photographer. Find all manner of baked goods for sale alongside barista-made coffee and fresh blooms at the door.
Terrigal has long been hailed the Sydneysiders summer playground – and for good reason. Sweeping views of the South Pacific Ocean unfold to your left as you drive down into Terrigal; chairs occupied by patrons spill out onto the pavement from a collection of trendy cafés, restaurants and fish and chip shops along the esplanade to your right, as beachgoers wash off the sand from their morning swim at the surf club showers in front of you. Everywhere you look, the sights and sounds of summer look back.
Find a spot at one of the sun-soaked cafés for brunch; try Bellyfish Café or Island Time Espresso Bar across from the beach. Keep driving – or stroll along the brand new boardwalk past the rock pool come early 2021 – to Terrigal Haven to enjoy breakfast in a sheltered spot by the water at Cove Café. The Haven is also home to the ex-HMAS Adelaide shipwreck. ProDive will take you underwater to explore the wreck up close for an adventurous twist to the day. Alternatively, book a dolphin or whale-watching cruise with Andrew Jones, owner and skipper of Terrigal Ocean Tours to stay above the water.
As the sun goes down, return to the esplanade or the nearby streets of Terrigal to dine at one of the many restaurants. Book a table at The Cowrie for a fine dining seafood-focused feast, or settle in for a meal at Queensland chef Scott Price’s Yellowtail – Price refuses to let the menu be limited to one cuisine, so expect the unexpected. For a more lively spin on the evening, opt for cocktails, hearty dishes and beachfront views at The Joker and the Thief. Kick on with drinks at Mumbo Jumbos, Rhonda’s rooftop bar, or Pocket Bar.
Place yourself in the heart of the action on the esplanade at Crowne Plaza Terrigal Pacific. The oceanfront property boasts an outdoor heated pool and is a dining hotspot within its own right – with Seasalt restaurant, the Lord Ashley Bar & Lounge, and the Florida Beach Bar.
Norah Head delivers nonstop laidback holiday vibes all year round, but summer here is something extra special. It may be the iconic walk across the headland to Norah Head Lighthouse, a swim in the scenic Norah Head rock pool or the many other sun-drenched beaches that fringe the coastline nearby including Pelican Beach and Soldiers. But it could also be something less tangible, more of a feeling that makes you nostalgic for the halcyon days of your youth. You’ll find it here in Norah Head.
Stop by the General Store Café for brunch enjoyed beachside next to the Lighthouse, or The Island Café opposite Mazlin Reserve. Pop next door to Norah Head Patisserie for a takeaway treat before you hit the local trails. Hike the Moonee Beach Trail through Munmorah State Conservation Area to swim, snorkel or fish at your own secluded slice of paradise on Moonee Beach. Or opt for Wyrrabalong National Park to walk the 3.4-kilometre loop Red Gum Trail or 3.5-kilometre Lillypilly Loop Trail rainforest walk.
Set aside the better part of a morning to hop from one boutique shop to the next, starting with Frankie Lifestyle in the village, Coastal Road for homewares, and Noraville Green for plant life in nearby Toukley. For good times and even better food head to Johnny Tapas for dinner. The restaurant had been a pipedream for Melissa Roberts, Justin Black and Ryan Barron for years before the trio finally launched the pizza and tapas bar weeks before COVID restrictions hit. While the timing wasn’t ideal, it’s gone on to become one of the hospitality success stories of 2020 thanks to the unwavering support of the local community.
Don’t go past Norah Head Holiday Park and Canton Beach Holiday Park for the ultimate family holiday experience. Pullman Magenta Shores and Magenta Beach House are great for couples and groups. Or for something completely unique, stay in the Norah Head Lighthouse in the old Lighthouse Keepers Quarters for a taste of history within walking distance to the picture-perfect Norah Head rock pools and a patrolled beach.
The pace of life slows to a stroll in Ettalong Beach. Find the tranquil seaside village tucked alongside Umina Beach across from the bush-covered Wagstaffe Point where Brisbane Water and Broken Bay meet. The water is as calm as the pace, but what Ettalong lacks in surfing opportunities it more than makes up for in adrenalin-pumping water sports and far-reaching ocean views. In fact, you can see out across Broken Bay past Lion Island to Barrenjoey Lighthouse on the headland of Sydney’s exclusive Palm Beach – there’s also a ferry that connects the two. Take the flat coastal walk that stretches from Ettalong Beach to Umina Beach and back again to soak it all in.
Former city-dwellers Dani Hanrahan and Germán Salamanca have managed to capture the calming essence of Ettalong in their new beachside store, Slowwell. The couple were intent on escaping the busyness of their city lives to set up a community hub that combines great coffee with opportunities for personal development and a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing. Pop in for a filtered coffee and peruse the walls of books and thoughtfully curated items for sale for a taste of life in the slow lane.
It’s a similar story for the couple behind fashion, home and vintage emporium, Tiki La La. April Xing and Heath Crawley left behind their former careers – April as a fashion magazine stylist and Heath as the bassist for indie rock band Children Collide – to bring together their collective talents in fashion photography and music to create a studio boutique that overflows with unique vintage and preloved fashion and a carefully curated vinyl collection.
Once you’ve finished perusing Ettalong’s stores, follow it up with a waterside feast at The Box on the Water for lunch, swing by Sasa Sicilian Street Food Bakery to devour the best cannoli on the Coast, and end the day with a caramel-infused espresso martini at Bar Toto alongside a delectable antipasti board – build your own from the menu of cured meats and cheeses handmade by local and Italian producers.
Stay right in the centre of it all on the water at the Mantra Ettalong, or for more waterfront options bed down at Booker Seaside or Le Booker Beachfront – two new holiday properties overlooking Booker Bay. Alternatively, head around the corner to Umina to stay beachside in one of the all new NRMA Ocean Beach ‘Glamtainers’. The chic tiny home accommodation features a kitchenette, bathroom, veranda and outdoor barbecue. An Australian first, the stylishly converted containers are now touring the country, and the Central Coast is their summertime home